Native Entrepreneur Start-Up Saves Trees One Box at a Time
Hopi recycling entrepreneur Tyler Tawahongva is ready to make a big difference in the reservation town of Tuba City, Arizona, with his community-based small business model that employs local community members, protects the environment, and could be replicated across Native American reservations. You can help make the next step happen.
One Man’s Waste is Another Man’s Treasure
“I’m the cardboard guy—people know me,” Tyler says. In 2014, he quit his day job and became a one-man recycling machine, creating Cloud Nine Recycling . He hires day laborers when cash flow allows, collecting and transporting over 40,000 pounds of cardboard and paper recycling in 2014 alone. Once a week, he empties the 40-foot recycling containers at the Tuba City waste transfer station, and collects materials from local businesses and organizations including the local food bank, hospital and elementary school. Cloud Nine Recycling also saves the community money. With Tyler taking excess cardboard and plastics, the community doesn’t have to pay for transport as frequently.
But that’s just the beginning of his work. He’s transformed the dusty lot surrounding his trailer into a neatly ordered scrap yard of recyclables: cardboard, aluminum cans, plastic bottles, and electronics. For one run, he drives his own car to Flagstaff, 80 miles away, rents a truck when the price is low enough (which could mean waiting weeks), drives back to Tuba City, loads it, and drives 220 miles south to recycling centers in Phoenix. With gas and rental expenses eating into his profits and the price of cardboard plummeting from $100 per ton to $70, he’s been just barely breaking even, but with your help, that could change for the better.
New Truck, New Opportunity
One thing that could help Tyler cut expenses and take Cloud Nine Recycling to the next level is a box-truck. This would give him the flexibility to drive loads to Phoenix, and other places, when the price is right. It would save him time and money that could then go toward buying better quality inventory and hire locally. With a bigger truck, larger entities on the reservation even contract with Cloud Nine to pick up their recyclables more frequently, rather than outsourcing the work to large off-reservation companies. In an area with up to 40% unemployment, that could mean a lot to the rez community as well as the Cloud Nine bottom line.
Tyler has already taken Cloud Nine Recycling from idea to reality by winning Trees, Water & People’s (TWP) Green Business in Indian Country Start-Up Award last fall, and by being accepted as a client in the intensive Native American Business Incubator Network (NABIN) , a program launched by the Grand Canyon Trust . He is now a LLC registered business, has a strong working business plan, and has launched a website and marketing plan. He’s gained momentum working with local businesses and communities that want to recycle their waste and keep it out of the landfills, and is creating new connections that will help to grow his business. As it moves forward, Tyler’s business model could well be a beacon for other Natives across Indian Country.
“If I can show that protecting the environment can be profitable, maybe people elsewhere on the rez will want to do the same thing. It’s a good feeling to keep something out of the landfill. It’s a good way to way to make a living,” Tyler says.
Please support Tyler’s effort to build the local reservation economy based on green and clean!